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Yes We Can!

Ken Russell


By his own admission Ken Russell waxes lyrical about the election of Barack Obama as the first black American President.   It is not to endorse every plank of Obama's policies,  but to simply share the overwhelming joy of so manyAmericans,  and people of goodwill around the world,  who have dared to dream this man will turn the tide of polarisation pessimism and mistrust that has tsunamied over international relations in the Bush years.


Courtesy the genius of satellite television we New Zealanders sat in the comfort of our own homes this week to watch live a watershed event in American politics, and pray God, in the world’s. “It’s been a long time coming, but because of what we did on this day, in this defining moment, change has come to America,” claimed Barack Obama before 200,000 ecstatic supporters gathered to celebrate his victory in Chicago’s Grant Park.

With our own election only days away when the American election was decided, Wednesday our time, we in our antipodean isolation might once have taken a parochial approach to any events outside GodZone. But not any more. In the global village, so great is the influence of the USA on what happens to the rest of us that long before the marathon presidential election had reached its climax this week, millions of us had decided that there was something in the bearing of Obama, his ability to inspire, his serene confidence in the face of daunting odds, the surety of the hope he engendered among the youth of his country, his deep concern for those for whom the American dream was little more than a fiction, that what was good and right for America was good and right for the world!

And so when Obama had time and time again enthused his audiences in those huge pre-election rallies with the now familiar words “Yes We Can. Change is coming to America and change is coming to the world!” we did not retreat to the cynicism usually reserved for politicians making claims on which they can never deliver. We joined the growing number of Americans with growing faith in this remarkable young senator, despite allegations he was too inexperienced in the ways of Washington, to actually convert the dream into reality.

I began with the miracle of satellite Tv by which the earth has become so much smaller, and the world a much more intimate theatre for those of us fortunate enough to have the technology in our living rooms. A call from Australia woke us very early one morning in Sept 01 and urged us to switch on the CNN channel. As a result we saw most of the drama of the attack on the twin towers, and the appalling aftermath. They were images we and millions of others will never forget, symbols of how even the mightiest can be brought down by stealth and surprise. Little did we think at the time of what became an even more terrible aftermath, the pathological fear that gripped America, the welcome excuse for the Bush administration to launch the “War on Terror”, and a foreign policy that has polarised the world community for and against the USA.

Seven years later we have witnessed equally memorable images, from which America and the world can take enormous heart. For me there were two aspects to Wednesday’s pictures that I will continue to cherish, and in time, will hopefully replace in my memory the trauma of others that will forever be known as 9/11. The first, of course, is that of Obama himself, the ready-made presidential aura of the man and his towering oratory that has likened him in the minds of many of us to Martin Luther King. As the great reformer himself said, he had only glimpsed the promised land, and now some 40 years later, in the election of an aspirational Barack Obama, the fruits of that land are measurably closer for people of colour. Unquestionably, here in this slim commanding man is one who was born to lead. ( a 21st century Moses?)

But the second, of course, were the close images of the huge Chicago crowd. Faces wreathed with joy, eyes filled with tears, voices choked with emotion, the sheer contained ecstasy of black and white folks alike, was captured by the cameras and flashed to the world. It was a sight to gladden the hearts of every person of goodwill, whatever their political persuasion. And there in the forefront, Rev Jessie Jackson, from time to time among the most reviled people in America for his insistent championing of black rights, not to mention his self appointed role as international peace-maker. Americans are not accustomed to a mute Jackson, but there he was, totally overwhelmed by what was good and right at that special moment in time.

I have waxed lyrical, but so did hardened political commentators as they dropped their professional objectivity to mark a very profound decision - simply put, that a black man, son of a Kenyan Muslim man and a white American woman, with an extended family living in obscurity in rural Kenya, had been overwhelmingly elected to the most powerful office in the world. That same black man would bring with him an equally young and intelligent African American woman, Michelle, into the White House as America’s first lady. And tomorrow, he said, his first day as President-elect, he would personally take his two black daughters Sasha and Malia to school, with the promise of a puppy when he is installed as President on Jan 20.

Sometimes it’s hard to hold back. It’s a time to be happy, to be more hopeful of God’s future for a fractured anxious world.
Ken Russell





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